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Machiavelli first said, “Never waste the opportunity offered by a good crisis.” Winston Churchill popularized Machiavelli by saying “Never let a good crisis go to waste” and in 2008 last crisis president-elect Barack Obama’s chief of staff Rahm Emanuel got the headlines with never let a serious crisis go to waste.

A good crisis tends to make people rethink their life ambitions. Architects traditionally take the lead.

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City architect W.G. Witteveen working on the new city plan of Rotterdam in 1940.

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The quote is still as true as it ever was. A good economic recession gives people time for reflection and to reappraise their dreams and ambitions. Building and economic welfare go hand in hand. When there’s no growth, no construction and no architecture, there is time for planning, research, studies, debates and dialogues. These latter undertakings have the tendency to occur solely in an academic environment in times of boom. Increasingly, they also tend to stay there. Those that build must structure their time and often do not allow themselves the space for considered debate, or they would lose out on jobs. How different this all is when construction has halted and there’s a high rate of building vacancies. Worthy initiatives develop in which the market, the building sector, the government and the academic world manage to find each other and work towards solutions. The hard lines and strict regulations that limit space and negotiations in other times, suddenly become more flexible.

Under the supervision of a capable firm such as ZUS, the opportunities granted by the crisis were used to create a Podium for Urban Culture: De Dependance. A high quality programme ensured enthusiastic support from and participation by both academics and professionals. Serious debates were held, discussing all aspects of urban planning and architecture and the future of urbanism. Not within the walls of a university, but in public, in a vacant office building, using the city as platform.

Meanwhile, the crisis has passed and building works and urban development have resumed. It’s very tempting to return to business as usual. Together we’ll build the ideas we drew up during the difficult years or, at the very least, work towards the dreams and ambitions that now seem viable again. There’s a good chance that debates about the future of the city and the role of architects will fade into an academic setting once again, perhaps even into the setting of a single faculty. It would be a great shame if this were to happen, especially given the quality of innovative public debate spawned by the Public Talks. The fact that De Dependance has decided to continue with its debates programme is admirable. We hope it will contribute to a broadened public support, which in turn will increase the chances of implementing the findings of the research and development undertaken over the past years (and hopefully also to be undertaken over the coming years).

FGF therefore wholeheartedly grants its support to Research By Debate.


Dikkie Scipio for FGF

Hanane Metalsi News, Publications, Quarterly winner